Shenzhen: China’s Cooperation

I watched this documentary the other week. It really made me think about how cultural imperialism (ie. capitalism) might just not be a great thing for economics going forward. Work through this with me – if China can innovate quicker because of the sharing of ideas and materials, and capitalism restricts the sharing of ideas thanks to intellectual property, patents and copyright, how will western countries be able to keep up? Maybe they’ve lost already? In fact I think we’re seeing that the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries ascend to superpower status not on military might, but on economic. This, to me, is a very clear decline of the Western civilization that we’re living through.

The other thing about this is the absolutely stunning (I assume) drone shots, and the generally beautiful cinematography of the entire thing. I’ve been falling back on some of my media development background lately, and after years of hating films (mostly because we analyzed The Manchurian Candidates opening sequence over 14 weeks in frame by frame detail and that arduous process singlehandedly destroyed my ability to turn off the critical framework) I’ve finally come around to enjoying the beauty of stuff like this without thinking about how to make it better. Educational media needs to become far more literate with this sort of visual storytelling because it’s cheap to do now and really, really accessible. Every place of higher education has a media group – and they can do this if you can’t. It used to require thousands of dollars of equipment, studios, editing suites, but really if you have a modern DSLR (or mirrorless compact) and can get good photos, you can probably get good video. Sound might take a cellphone and a post-production sync with the camera – but that’s easy enough in iMovie, Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro or Camtasia.

Goodbye to All the Yahoos

No, this isn’t some grandiose sign-off from public life (although I’m fairly certain I should probably do that…). Really it’s the end of an era where I’ve finally deleted all my Yahoo related accounts. I really only had two Yahoo accounts, one for life ( and one for “professional life” ( But with stuff like Facebook linked to my life account at Yahoo (who’ve had some serious data breeches) I really didn’t feel safe anymore with it. I had the Yahoo account since the late 90’s, because I was a Rocketmail user, and Yahoo bought them out. It was a long process, to finally pull the plug. I started migrating mail from Yahoo late last year. I thought about migrating my band photos from Flickr but realized that I didn’t really care – I have them still and can post them in a gallery on my own website.Or maybe I don’t really care about them either? I don’t know. Flickr’s social aspects are a mere blink of what they used to be. I don’t know that they need to be online at all. The hardest part is all the places with logins tied to the yahoo account. Holy smokes, ten years of logins, some at places that don’t exist anymore.

The tipping point was my Instagram account being hacked, e-mail changed and then deleted in rather quick succession. I got on to the Yahoo account associated and deleted it. And that was it. Identity snuffed out. All the angry e-mails, pranks, early evidence transferred to Gmail for searchability and for it to exist somewhere (I do have some prized correspondence with now dead people that I treasure – as well as digital ephemera that is fun to dig up and look at from time to time) was comforting,

With all that said, I don’t think moving to Gmail is that great an idea but it’s what I’ve done. I keep the name dietsociety because, well, it’s in a lot of places, but 15 years since doing anything resembling a zine, maybe I need to let that go too.

Blackboard Thinks They Know How You Teach

In November of last year a blog post by Blackboard was making the rounds. A Blackboard study documented how instructors use their system which was somehow conflated as being equivalent to knowing how teachers teach. We could talk about how terrifying this blog post is, or how it’s devoid of solid analysis. Instead I’d like to turn over a new leaf and not harp on about privacy, or a company using the aggregate data they’ve collected with your consent (although you probably weren’t aware that when you agreed to “allow Blackboard to take your data and improve the system” that they’d make this sort of “analysis”), but just tear into the findings.

Their arbitrary classifications (supplemental? complementary?) are entirely devoid of the main driver of LMS use: grades, not instructor pedagogical philosophy – students go to the tools where they are going to get marked on.  Social? I guarantee if you did an analysis of courses that value use of the discussion tool (note, that’s not about quality) as greater than 30% of the final grade, you’ll see a  hell of a lot more use of discussions. It’s not that the instructor laid out a social course, with a student making an average of 50 posts throughout the course (which if you break that down to 14 weeks of “activity” that works out to 3.5 posts per week – which is strangely similar to the standard “post once and respond twice” to get your marks – it’s that discussions are the only tool that give some power to students to author.

Time spent is also a terrible metric for measuring anything. Tabs get left open. People sit on a page because there’s an embedded video that’s 20 minutes long. Other pages have text which is scannable. Connections are measured how? Is it entry and exit times? What if there’s no exit, how does the system measure that (typically it measures for a set amount of activity and then if none occurs the system assumes an exit)? Were those values excluded from this study? If so, how many were removed? Is that significant?

Now Blackboard will say that because of the scale of the data collected that those outliers will be mitigated. I don’t buy that for a second because LMS’s are not great at capturing this data from the start (in fact server logs are not much better), because there’s very little pinging for active window or other little tricks that can only be really assessed using eye tracking software and computer activity monitoring. Essentially garbage-in, garbage-out. We have half baked data that is abstractly viewed and an attempt is made at some generalizations.

Here’s a better way to get at this data: ask some teachers how they use the LMS. And why. It’s that simple.

If you look at Blackboard’s findings, you should be frankly scared if you’re Blackboard. Over half of your usage (53% “supplemental” or content-heavy) could be done in a password protected CMS (Content Management System). That’s a system that could cost nothing (using Joomla or any of the millions of free CMS software available) or replicated using something institutions already have. The only benefit institutions have is that they can point at the vendor when stuff goes wrong and save money on outsourcing expertise into an external company.

If you take the findings further, only 12% of courses (“evaluative” and “holistic”) get at the best parts of the LMS, the assessment tools. So 88% of courses reviewed do things in the system that can be replicated better elsewhere. Where’s the value added?

Why Can’t Students Opt-Out of Data Collection in Higher Ed?

You know, for all the talk from EdTech vendors about being student centred (and let’s face it, LMS’s and most of the other products are not student centred) and all the focus on data collection from student activity – why don’t products have an easy opt-out (being student centred and all that) to not allow data to be collected?

What makes matters worse in many ways is that the data collection is hidden from student’s view. For instance, in many LMS’s they track time spent on content items or files uploaded. This tracking is never made explicit to the student unless they go and dig into their own data. And doing that is incredibly difficult and you don’t get a complete picture of what is being collected. If I was a more conspiratorial minded person, I’d suggest that it was done on purpose to make it hard to understand the amount of total surveillance that is accessible by a “teacher” or “administrator”. I’m not. I honestly believe that the total surveillance of students in the LMS is really about feature creep, where one request turned into more requests for more information. LMS’s on the other hand want to keep their customers happy, so why not share what information they have with their clients, after all it’s their data isn’t it?

Actually, it’s not. It’s not the client’s data. It’s the individual’s data. To argue otherwise is to claim that what someone does is not their own – it reduces agency to a hilariously outdated and illogical idea.

The individual, human, user should be allowed to share or not share this data, with teachers, with institutions or with external companies that host that data in an agreement with an institution that probably was signed without them even knowing it. There’s an element of data as a human right that we should be thinking about. As an administrator I have a policy I have to adhere to, and a personal set of ethics that frankly are more important to me (and more stringent) than the obscurely written-in-legalese policy. An unscrupulous, or outright negligent LMS administrator would mean that all bets would be off. They could do things in the LMS that no one, except another administrator, could track. Even then, the other administrator would have to know enough to be able to look at all the hundreds of different changelogs, scattered across different tools, across different courses and do essentially a forensic search that could take a good long time to undo any damage. That lack of checks and balances (a turn of phrase that appears purposefully as I think we’ll see what a lack of checks and balances will be like in the US the next few years) which could be implemented as part of using the system, but aren’t, leaves education in precarious situations.

The idea that the data locked in the LMS without the students being able to say, “I only want my data shared with my College” or “I only want my data shared with company X for the purposes of improving the system” shouldn’t be hard to implement. So why hasn’t it been done? Or, even talked about?

In my opinion, the data that gets harvested (anonymously of course) provides more important information to the company about how people use the system than the optics of having an opt-out button. It allows Blackboard to say how instructors use their system. We could talk about how terrifying this blog post is (instructor use is a proxy for how students use the system because LMSs give power to instructors to construct the student’s experience), or devoid of solid analysis. I’ll deal with the analysis later, so let’s just consider how this is entirely without context.  Blackboard hosted sites have been harvested (probably with the consent of the people who signed the contracts, not the instructors who actually create things on the system, or the students who engage in the system) by Blackboard to tell you how you teach. In one of the cited pieces, Blackboard says that they used this data to improve their notifications. If I put this through for ethics review, and said I’m going to look at notifications improvement and then released a post about how people used the whole system, it may very well be in their rights (and I suspect it is) but it is ethically murky. The fact they’ve released it to the public allows the public to ask these questions, but no one really has? Or if they have, I missed it.

The fact that Blackboard can do this (and I’m talking about Blackboard because they did it, but there’s a similar post from Canvas that’s making the rounds about discussion posts with video being more engaging or some such idea) without really clearing this with any client is chilling. It also constrains how we perceive we are able to use the LMS (it sets the standards for how it is used).

Learning Technologies Symposium 2016 Recap

McMaster University holds a Learning Technologies Symposium every year and this year’s event was spread over two days just after (Canadian) Thanksgiving.  I have a bit of a biased view, as I’ve been one of the organizers over the last four years so unlike my other recap type posts where I share the things I’ve learned attending the sessions, this one will document the things that I did and the things I learned.

A few days before, we had some session cancellations so I, being the diligent jack-of-all-trades offered to run a few sessions to fill in the gaps. The first was on using PebblePad as a peer-review platform, the second was a session I co-presented with a colleague on WebEx, our new web conferencing tool and lastly I ran a quick introduction to digital badges.

I also had to dip back into my history as a media developer to help sort out (with the help of our current digital media specialists) how to get a video camera (actually two video cameras) with HDMI outs into a WebEx broadcast of our keynote (the answer was that it’s best to run it through a video mixer, in this case a Roland VR-50HD). It came together fairly well, without the caveat that WebEx is persnickety when you don’t connect devices in the correct order (ie. it accepted the video feed fine, but didn’t switch audio to match, a quick audio reset fixed the issue).

So I missed most of Barbara Oakley’s keynote, which dealt with a lot of scientific research into how we learn and pay attention, and a lot of the discussion that followed as I was busy with the setup and breakdown of the streaming rig.

The first session I attended was one I was presenting for 15 minutes about peer review – the other session was about Individual Assessment and Personal Learning – in the context of an Italian language course (which as an aside, uses an open textbook). Unfortunately, no one showed up. It was great to catch up with Wendy, who was presenting in the same slot as I, and we chatted about all sorts of educational technology things.

Onto day two… I missed the first block of sessions working on preparing for my own session on WebEx (and catching up on e-mail from the last week, when I was off). The WebEx introduction session went really well, people were happy with the visual fidelity and audio quality. They also seemed intrigued with the testing option, but who knows if anyone will actually take it up. I’m really hoping we could do something with it – maybe review classes at the end of a semester could take advantage of it?

Day two had a series of presentations on some of the VR/AR work that’s being done on campus right now, which is new and exciting even though I’m not involved in it. Every project I’ve heard about is using the technology in a way that makes sense and should enhance learning (unlike in the past where technology is used for flash and wow, without any consideration for it making any sense). I wish I didn’t present twice on day two, because those sessions would’ve been great to see more than for a few seconds.

At lunch David Porter (who I didn’t know I was following on Twitter) new CEO of eCampusOntario (our version of BC Campus) did an overview of how he sees eCampusOntario developing and essentially threw a job recruitment pitch out there as well. We’ll see how the latest round of funding for research and projects goes, because the call was very specific and rigorous – so that vision is really well defined. I did start a proposal, but of course, it was due on October 31st, and I was in Texas watching my favourite band play their last show (NSFW), so I was a little busy.

After lunch I did a presentation on digital badges (do we need them?) that was a brief introduction to digital badges and tried to answer whether we need them (the precis is no, we don’t need them but you may still want to use them in cases where you want to explicitly assess skills or document experiences – transcripts and portfolios can handle the rest). This was paired with an instructor who uses our LMS for exams, in a relatively unique way. The exam is a paper based math exam, mostly generating matricies. The students complete the exam using pencil, paper and calculators, then are given half an hour to transcribe the work into D2L. The instructor then uses the auto marking feature to grade exams using fill-in-the-blanks. It’s a pretty clever way to make marking easier.

After closing remarks – and a giveaway – it was all wrapped up for another year.




The world this past couple of weeks have really gotten me down. I used to think that education, and technology, could help people improve themselves, open themselves up to new experiences, believe new things, try new approaches but now I wonder if all that’s just been talk.

I don’t want to blame this talk:

But in some ways, it’s really galvanized a lot of what I’ve been thinking this past month. About how the work I’m doing is not enough. I’m not fighting for what I believe in enough (by the way, that’s work on the open web, understanding digital literacies, criticizing educational technology for putting us in boxes we shouldn’t be in). I’ve become comfortable supporting other’s work while not doing my own work to push for what’s right.

Semester start up always bring these feelings to the forefront – I keep hoping that someone will step forward and do something interesting and innovative. And we keep falling short of that. I keep falling short of that. This post isn’t intended as a pity party, it’s a blatant reminder to myself that I need to find ways to do the work I want to do, work that’s important to do.

Fusion 2016 Recap

So, as always, D2L’s Fusion conference is a good time. I always learn a lot, but I always have a good time as well. Usually, I like to fly out of Buffalo airport, but the way things worked out I was flying out of Toronto Island Airport (not Pearson, which is the big one that most people use). It was a great experience, but different. I am always really early for flights, and prefer to pay in cash, and at Toronto Island you don’t have to be two hours ahead, and you can’t pay for anything in cash. Oh well, I’ll know for next time. I did run into a ton of people who were going to the conference, including people from Ryerson University, Conestoga College, and the University of Guelph. Jason, a co-conspirator in provocative thinking (or a troublemaker and a friend), was on the plane, and gave me the best compliment on my readiness to get through customs; “you’re such an organized anarchist”.

I knew this year’s conference was going to be a get-up and go quickly kind of affair; the whole deal itself started on the Sunday night, so I had a whole of 6/7 hours before it started to get in some record shopping, a meal, and maybe see a sight or two (I don’t really sight see, I’ve been to New York City half a dozen times and have never gone to the Statue of Liberty, seen a Broadway play or gone up the Empire State Building). Having never been in DC, I scoped out their record store selection (in hindsight Joint Custody was the best of the bunch, but none of them were what I’d call “bad”) realized it all stemmed from U street, and head off that way. I didn’t really get a chance to hunt down some Go Go, but that was due to a lack of time.  After a stop at Ben’s Chili Bowl (doubling for my sightseeing and a meal, because the importance of the restaurant cannot be understated) for a half-smoke (no onions) and a bit of history, records scored, it was time to get back to the hotel, and get situated for the evening conference welcome.

The conference welcome started, I ran into Barry, who I have this kinship with, so we typically hang out as much as possible (which isn’t as much as I’d like) when you consider the scope of this sort of thing. Also getting odd photos with former Premier of Ontario seems to be a thing for me:

After a brief night out, I returned to the hotel, and noticed that I had missed shaving a chunk of hair on the side of my head right above my ear. How did I go through the whole day, talking to people I know, in two different states and a province, with no one saying, “hey, your barber missed a spot”? At a quarter to midnight it was off to the 24 hour CVS to get some disposable razors. My friends are a bunch of jerks. OK, not really. It also allowed me to catch a ton of Pokemon on my stroll, so it was all for good.

Day One

For whatever reason, perhaps it’s my inner competitor, I always like playing D2L’s event games. This year’s app was well built and a neat motivator for me to fill in feedback. I know, judging from how many people stuck around for codes at the end of the presentations, that I’m not the only one.

I was early for the breakfast (getting up at 6 AM for some ungodly reason), so I wandered around the vendor displays and talked to Kaltura and ReadSpeaker about their products (Kaltura we have as a streaming solution for our department needs, ReadSpeaker we have looked at for a while but haven’t had any group on campus suggest they want to foot the bill for).

The opening remarks were good enough – sales pitch for how good D2L is really – but that’s to be expected. I was really interested to hear about some of the success stories that D2L has had over the last year in different areas of the world and education sector. It seems that they’re really pushing into the corporate training space, and an LMS (especially when you consider the work being done in outcomes that they’re investing in) makes sense in that context. I wonder if that diversification of clients is something that will make getting higher education’s needs met harder? Will D2L spread themselves too thin? I guess we’ll find out over the next few years.

Getting Started with Brightspace Data Access

I always try to attend Valence API (now called the Application API) sessions even though I’m doing zero API work – one of these days I’ll get back to the programming stuff I used to do (just in time for my outdated skills to be even more outdated…) because there’s some need to do it. In addition to the Application API, D2L is opening up it’s Data API, so you can access the data storehouse for custom queries rather than using the Application API to periodically collect that data yourself. It only works with Brightspace Data Platform, which is hosted by Amazon Web Services. There’s still some questions floating out there about what exactly is stored in Amazon, and from this session I gather a lot of it is just transaction stuff – so the code to call the data, but not the data itself. If there are data points stored, they would have to be obfuscated. They also mentioned a Data Hub, which allows you to get data extracts (if you’re an Insights/Analytics customer first) in CSV format, so hopefully that means we can run some networking analysis on how people use the system based on extracted data.

Magic Brightspace Widgets

Again, another session that I went to that wasn’t about what I’m doing currently. This one detailed how you can use jQuery and the DOM to scale through D2L’s design of the system to create widgets that change how the entire course looks and feels. Essentially you create code in the middle – which wouldn’t work at scale – but on the course level might be useful. Some really impressive stuff – too bad I couldn’t find the Prezi online anywhere, I’d like to take another look at the examples that Ms. Milanovic at Deakin University showed.

Who’s Got Game? How Badging and Certificates Drives Learner Engagement

Matt Murphy of D2L ran this session, and I wanted to attend as I’m co-running a workshop on Tuesday about badging programs – and I wanted to see what he had to say about badges. Thankfully, he covered a lot of the groundwork about what badges are (using one of the same images I used in my slides!), when to use them and a lot of the foundational work that we didn’t have time to cover in our workshop. Big high fives to Matt for laying the groundwork for us to be able to be successful. And introducing me to Untappd, an app that documents the beers you consume.

Valence Possibilities: Demonstrating Automated Course Setup and Enrollment Applications Supporting Distributed and Centralized Curricular Models

This was an interesting session about how one university uses the API to manage course creations in creative ways (essentially copying from Master courses or Sandboxes on creation). Most of their code was in C#, so that’s not a lot of use to me, but the principles are always good to have a look at.

Keynote by Sir Ken Robinson

I will say, Sir Ken Robinson’s talk was fun, thoughtful, but lean on content. Essentially he riffed on the nature of individuality, and how creativity is a context specific idea, for an hour. An entertaining hour, yes, absolutely. I didn’t learn anything from it that I didn’t hear from his TED talks, or other sessions. I imagine he’s a great guy to get a pint with, and mull over ideas with, but this talk didn’t exactly set my heart ablaze. It was good, and maybe I was expecting that feeling the first time I saw the original TED talk about the ways systems (not just educational systems, but all systems) handle individuality (or creativity in some contexts).

A Night at the Newseum

It was cool to see a piece of the Berlin Wall. Other than that, it seemed very american-centric, and I guess that’s not really a valid criticism as it’s in Washington DC, but I was hoping for insight into how news exists elsewhere. Meh. Back to the hotel to grab a decent pint (as much as I like free beer, Amstel Light as the best beer of the bunch, requires a follow-up with something a little more full bodied) and then head up to finish up some last minute touch ups to the presentation, documents, and other stuff for the workshop tomorrow.

Day Two

Got up, did some last minute touch ups to the presentation part of the workshop for today, reviewed my bits and was early for the Technical Account Manager breakfast. Now we have good relationship with JP, or TAM, so it was neat to have some of the other TAMs around as well to see who else is one. Solution Spotlight was next, this year they announced that they’re giving YouSeeU to all their clients – although we’ll have to see where the data is hosted, what the terms of the integration are, and what the specifications of what we’re getting is. I did note, that this might impact our WebEx offering, or maybe not – depends on which product our faculty and students gravitate towards. Off to sessions.

Reimagining Portfolio Practice: An Audience Led Exploration of High Impact Portfolio Practice

Originally, this was intended to be our Learning Portfolio Program Manager co-presenting with Shane about PebblePad’s flexibility to provide portfolios of different types for different uses, but she retired and Shane from PebblePad asked me to be in the audience should there be a question about integration between D2L and PebblePad. It was a good whirlwind tour of different ways to use portfolios.

Start Your Badging Program Today!

This was the session I co-ran with Lavinia Oltean, who I often introduce as the younger, smarter, better looking, less mustachioed, more organized version of me. This may be the first time in my life I’ve left a session feeling really, really good about it. We hit all our timings (it got bumpy towards the middle) but we got through the bit of an introduction, let them get to work and we had great interaction. I think people came away with a good sense of what could be done with badges, and had a good start in working through what a badge could mean in their context.

Writing Your Own LTI + Combining It With Valence Calls = Solving Unique Problems

I missed the start of this as the end of our presentation leaked into the break and conversations were too good to abandon. The part of the session that I got was that they created a widget that used the API to create a test student account and LTI to connect their API use to Brightspace. I’m not sure why they didn’t simplify it a bit and just use the API to create and enroll the test student account (for faculty to use to view a course), but as a proof of concept it’s pretty cool.

Maximizing the Power of Brightspace: How a College is able to Generate Official course Syllabi from the Learning Environment

Again, I was late for this one as I was chatting with folks that I knew I wouldn’t see again until the next time at Fusion or at the regional conference. La Cite College have an external site that contains their course outlines, and have used the Application API (aka Valence) to read that external database and create a PDF course outline for faculty, automatically included in D2L. This was by far, the slickest idea I saw using the API at this Fusion. Really nice work.

What’s All this Buzzing About Next Generation Digital Learning Architecture?

Rob Abel from IMS Global gave a talk about how the people who help faculty learn about technology will move from an IT support sort of role, to a strategy consultant role as a result of the move from the monolithic LMS to a more distributed, next generation learning environment. His talk was wide ranging, and I’ve found it’s available here:

Keynote by Angela Meiers

I only could stay for 15 minutes because the concierge suggested that we take public transit rather than a cab to the airport. Jason and I decided to go together, seeing as we’re on the same flight and need to be there at the same time. Basically, you matter is what I got from the brief time in Angela’s talk.

The Way Home..

So I admit, there were less interesting run-ins, weird moments, funny things occurring that I’m used to at a conference. And then there was the way home. It got good once we got on the express bus to Dulles. Jason got called a Tom Cruise look alike, I had to get him back on the bus when he got off at a parking lot just outside Dulles (in his defense, everyone was getting off the bus, so it seemed logical), the driver laughed at us, and we had a great chat the rest of the way.

That’s not the end of it. After clearing through TSA in what felt like record time, we were both starving and having an hour before the flight boarded, thought a meal was in order. Of course, the restaurant we choose doesn’t move fast. You’d think that perhaps airport restaurants understand some people might be in a hurry? No? Me either.

Needless to say, Jason settled up (I had cash so no need to wait!) as I ran to the gate, to get on the plane. A minute before the doors closed, he got on the plane. It was a bit of a last minute dash.

A Buffet of Educational Technology Thoughts

If you’ve read anything in this blog, you know that I’m subject to “oh look, shiny!”, constantly distracted and going in one hundred directions. This post will get as close to the way my brain works.

First up, we’re scrapping Blackboard Collaborate as our web conferencing tool and installing WebEx. As a conferencing tool it’s light years ahead in terms of usability and functionality. I’m sure some of our more advanced users will find the quirks, but hopefully we can manage to stay one or two steps ahead of them. We had been Collaborate clients for years, migrating over from a self hosted Elluminate install.  Over time, the product, and it’s terrible Java interface, caused our users issues. We did integrate it directly with our D2L installation, which solved a lot of the interface issues, but then we’ve been hit with conversion errors that can’t be fixed by the user but prompt a ticket to Blackboard support. While Blackboard support have been excellent in this particular case, they haven’t been great over the years. Combine that with the fact that Blackboard has been promising a lot, and not producing a whit of evidence that they’ll be able to pull it off. If they weren’t so big, I’d be calling all their promises vaporware, but I fully expect they’ll be able to deliver eventually. It’s the eventually part that’s the problem.

Second, I’m working through how we can roll out blogs effectively to faculty who want their students to blog, but want a campus install to do it from. I know WordPress Multisite is the way to go, but it’s going to be a slow going process as we need to work with other groups on campus to make this one happen. I personally think that having an academic blog is an important piece of the process of going to University and becoming an academic – how else do people disseminate their findings to the public without the filter of a news organization? How else do academics form their own personal learning network? I’m a huge believer in blogging as a form; and I see it as a reflective practice more often than not. It’s also a space that I can use to see how ideas sound, and it helps me articulate ideas better (by slowing my brain down to typing speed, which is much slower than my mouth goes).

Third, is the upgrade to Turnitin, will practically force us to convert our existing connection between D2L and Turnitin to the new LTI connection between the two parties. As always, this is a last minute addition to our semester startup, so it’s an added complexity that we didn’t really want to think about but will have to consider over the next few days. While Turnitin is forcing everyone to upgrade, there is an opt-out process, but from what I know (and I’ll know more later this week when we chat with our academic integrity office) we don’t know what that really means? How does opting-out effect us? Can we revert if everything craps out and nothing works post-upgrade?

Fourth, I’ve been asked to sit on a portfolio advocacy committee, that will push portfolio use to “the next level” campus wide. I have a few ideas, but I’ve never been fond of sitting on committees, more fond of the work that needs to get done out of the committees. I guess it’s progress when you have someone who knows what it takes and whether it can be done currently, rather than facing down the fact you can’t do what you had proposed due to technical feasibility. My boss is sneaky good at eliminating my ability to point the finger at other people’s decisions, so I guess this one will partially be on me.

Designing Digital Badges

The idea of designing a digital badge should be daunting. Much like how there’s a lot of discussion that web design is too complicated now (with front-end specialists. back-end specialists, UI, UX, branding, Javascript rockstars, and so on), designing a badge is a complex task. With a learning outcome, it’s fairly straight forward, you gather together a couple of sentences that express what you hope the learner to accomplish in a period of time. I’m drastically simplifying the writing of a learning outcome, because there’s great nuance in a truly well-written one. And there’s lots of ambiguity in poorly written ones…

With that said, badges are much like a learning outcome, plus all these other, sometimes complex, visual ideas that can entirely sabotage your badge before anyone has earned it. Is the badge ugly to the one who might earn it? They’re unlikely to be motivated and it could turn them off learning in your context.

With all that said I’m not a design expert, but I have bookmarked quite a few sites that give differing opinions on what a shape, color, design or visual idea might mean. If you’ve studies semiotics, you’ll fully understand that this is really a brief and cursory view of a deep and nuanced subject. If you’re a visual designer, you’ll really understand that there’s a lot for people to dig into with building a badge. This is just a taste to get your palate satiated, just a start to get the creative ideas flowing…

Understanding Shapes Better

Understanding Colour Better

Online Badge Design Kits

Badge Design Worksheets

Free Icons



PebblePad (Academic) Year One

So as we round out another academic year, now seems to be as good a time to talk about my view of PebblePad.

In this first year, I created 9000+ accounts, who logged in to the system a total of almost 39,000 times (I only count for 319 of those!), working on a total of 8700+ workbooks, or one of 12,500+ templates; creating 9700+ portfolios and submitting almost 7300 things for assessment in 99 active workspaces (PebblePad’s language for a course space). Personally that resulted in 37.5 hours of overtime, 30 consultations with at least 20 different faculty and 30 presentations to students from as few as 20 to as many as 200.

PebblePad has received one major upgrade (and one forthcoming in a few weeks), and a couple of minor patches. The upgrades were smooth as silk from an administrator perspective, because they happened in the wee hours of the morning and were usually done by the time I logged into the system as part of my morning ritual.

How’s it been? Busy. The work in the previous paragraph has been enough to keep me busy were it my only task, but in this time I’ve also had to support the LMS, and bring badging online (that, alone is another story that will be blogged about shortly). I did crunch some numbers and I spent approximately 75% of my time on ePortfolio related work – whether that be documentation, consultations or working with the tool itself.

The administration of PebblePad is dead simple because there’s very little beyond the initial configuration (in fact, I’ve only been back to look for the Turnitin linkage and to run monthly reports). The only glaring thing missing is that the system can’t tell you how many people logged in during a month long period – but I can get that information by looking at the last 28/30/31 days activity page, on the first. It’s not exact, but it’s close enough for now.

I did notice throughout the year that there was very few inquiries from students about how to do anything. They didn’t contact me anyways. They might’ve gone to instructors, but anything complex that had to be done usually had accompanying documentation or a video. I do know that most of my support requests were about getting their login credentials (the system was not connected to our central authentication system for the academic year – due to technical issues we’ve been having that’s mostly out of our control). That issue will be out of the way this month, so it should be clear sailing for folks next year.

We had people use PebblePad (well, Pebble+ specifically) for the sort of thing you’d expect a portfolio platform to do – collect disparate experiences, assemble them into a coherent statement about the experience or themselves and submit it for assessment (or credit for an experience). We also had people use portfolios as a way to assess (and have students self-assess) against programatic outcomes. We also had a few rogues use the peer grading capability of Atlas (the assessment piece of PebblePad) without using the portfolio piece at all, which is great that people are pushing the envelope so early. We had a group use PebblePad as the platform rather than the LMS as they had previously done. We have a group using PebblePad to replace existing paper based workbooks with digital ones. All good foundational work in our third year of ePortfolio/Learning Portfolio initiatives on campus, and the first year of PebblePad.

What could I have done better?

Well, I think I could’ve pushed for more help to ensure that some of the things I did were done the right way. For instance, I ended up doing too much work for faculty, instead of them being trained on how to use the system well and then letting them configure and play. Part of that was the late starting date of the system (September 2nd) – part of that was me trying to make things easy for people – so they could focus on teaching rather than the technical stuff. I wonder if I’ve set a terrible precedent for taking on too much work, which will make the sustainability of what we do, untenable?

I could’ve asked better questions about why students were doing this, rather than getting on with the work – I do that in other aspects of my job, so why I didn’t really challenge people with portfolio work is a bit puzzling. I suppose it could’ve been that there was just so much to do, that I didn’t want to get into it with many people. That has to change. Even though I’m not an Instructional Designer, sometimes I’m the only person (along with my colleagues who hold the same title) instructors will come to with their ideas about using technology.